Over the past year there has been a noticeable cluster of ‘well-being groups’ in west Wales who have come to us for support. Here are two of their stories…..
This project is the vision of Emma and Rodney Bird who are based at a 12-acre Alpaca farm on the outskirts of Lampeter. They moved here from Gloucester 10 years ago with the desire to work a small holding and live in a more sustainable and community-based way.
They wanted a humane and ‘gentle’ way of farming and wanted their carbon footprint to be as light as possible and so came to the decision to house Alpacas. Their land is managed in a sustainable way with no chemicals and pesticides and in terms of energy, they are completely off grid with a solar system and battery storage. They also grow willow and so Emma runs basket weaving sessions (which she learnt from a local lady who passed on her skills). The fibre from the alpaca’s coats are hand spun and some gets sent to a mill to turn it into wool for blankets and other products. Once a month there have also been sessions which involve a combination of a ‘making’ workshop, and alpaca walk and coffee & cake and in general, a pleasant, informal, community-feel ‘event’. A huge part of their vision is to demonstrate elements of their sustainable living to those who come on to the site;
“A walk to see the alpacas is always included for visitors… and we are mindful to talk about our chemical free policy for the pasture and that we aim to follow permaculture principles. We regularly talk and show people our off-grid electricity system, battery storage etc and our determination to be a low carbon entity” says Emma.
They met with Jane O-Brien (the local Renew Wales Co-ordinator) at an Enterprising Solutions event and continued the conversation with her at a later date when she visited them. They came to Renew Wales for support as they were looking to bring more local community members onto the farm to learn from their approach and experiences, but also to explore the possibility of becoming a ‘Care Farm’. Emma had always been keen on supporting vulnerable people through practical workshops and sessions and they’d had some volunteers with learning difficulties on the farm over the years. Jane connected them with a mentor, Jim Bowen from Clynfyw Care Farm to support them with a feasibility study for the idea. So several visits happened, both by Jim to Bird Farm and vice versa, where the group have seen exactly what goes on at a care farm, picked up tips and received lots of practical advice and support. Since then they have applied to register as a Community Interest Company (CIC) and for funding to run taster days (once current COVID restrictions are lifted.)
Much of this development has been against an awful backdrop of Rodney being diagnosed with cancer and receiving treatment and a devastating house fire, but somehow the alpacas and the peacefulness of nature around them has given them strength to continue.
Whilst they are a small group of four directors (6 members in total) who all bring different skills and experiences to the table, they are keen to develop further to offer well-being workshops to cancer patients and their families and to ex-service personnel for example, social prescription activities, bespoke day care services and some online craft courses.
“We are committed to keep taking action on climate change and Renew Wales has given us the tools to plan ahead with climate change projects and for it to be a priority going forward with the care farm. All of the group members, are fully aware of climate change issues and wish to develop any services and the facilities as sustainably as is practical.”
With so much enthusiasm and genuine concern for helping to tackle climate change, we think that this group will go from strength to strength and so watch this space for further developments at the site, including more renewable energy, a woodland and plans for a willow maze which will be great for pollinators.
Temple Druid Community
This group formed in 2014, when they found out that the house and land at Temple Druid, a 56-acre estate, based at the footsteps of the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire, near Maenclochog, was being sold. The purchase was not completed until April 2016 and it is now set up as a not for profit company.
The three current Directors are fully aware of issues around climate change and are committed to doing their bit to minimise impact, and so their mission is to be a year-round holistic therapeutic retreat centre within a sustainable farm, woodland environment, orchard and kitchen garden. Much of the overall vision is to be an example to others, by inviting groups and individuals onto the site to see and learn from their energy efficiency and generation, to deliver climate change and environmental courses at their roundhouse and generally, to run the site in a low impact way. And there’s plenty to keep them busy – with 20 acres of woodlands, a stream and pond, 80-90 apple trees and some pear trees, grazing fields, a wooden roundhouse with field, a stone circle, an abandoned slate quarry, a grade 2 listed building (John Nash design), two grade 2* listed stone barns and a wind turbine!
The centre is particularly focused towards helping disadvantaged children & their families and vulnerable adults and they have worked with various public sector agencies by offering courses suited to their needs or just a place where they can come and enjoy. They have run bush craft courses, family therapeutic workshops, 1-2-1 therapy, 1-2-1 employment support, and volunteering opportunities. Their Grow Together project offers food growing and environmental skill sessions that are open to vulnerable children aged 7+, young people aged 18-24yrs, carers and their families. It helps them learn about safe use of tools, planning which crops to grow, planting and harvesting food to eat as well as nutritional information. Various retreats are also on offer at the centre with a mixture of relaxed nature-loving activities and escapement from the day-to-day hecticness of life.(* Coronavirus has meant that all public activities are currently on hold but will hopefully re-emerge in time).
After contacting Renew Wales, via our local co-ordinator and drawing up an action plan, initial thoughts were sought from Sustainable Communities Wales about the energy efficiency of the buildings, but as one of the buildings is grade 2 listed and they were looking for a complete re-build (inc. extensions) this was not really within SCW’s remit. So, our mentor assistance turned to a different facet of their plan and looked at the renewable energy options on site, including the hydro potential of the old water wheel, the wind turbine and other solar/biomass generation and power storage.
The mentor Paul Cowley took a walk around and observed and suggested as he went. He was able to put them in touch both with the original installers of certain equipment to see the potential for repair and replacement parts, but also linked them to the research group who are piloting a pico-hydro (<5kW) system at the National Trust’s Ty Mawr Wybrnant property. There is a possibility that this could lead to a project between the two on site.
Paul Cowley said,
“The group possess a huge amount of energy and drive that helps direct things but keeping focussed is hard with so many things on the-to-do- list! James and the rest of the community members that I met have a challenge on their hands, but amazing spirit …to achieve great things.”
The group have plenty of ideas about other ways to improve life at the site. These include-
-developing their own woodland management plan so thereby having a sustainable fuel source. They have already done some additional planting of fruit and other trees on site.
– being a provider of high-quality organic fruit and veg produce. Aware that climate change will have an impact on what and how they choose to grow- they will plan and adapt as needed. By utilising organic growing methods there will be an improvement of the ecology on site making spaces for wildlife and wild growing areas.
-being able to welcome visitors into a space or building (specifically their roundhouse) where they can be in touch with and nurture their relationship with nature. The issue of climate change will be demonstrated to visitors through activities and the facilities.
-overcoming the huge challenges of the main grade ll listed building to achieve a well- insulated and affordable building to run and heat. Wood burners have been installed alongside other measures such as fully lined curtains to prevent heat loss, but it could well need full and extensive modifications or extensions to improve it.
vdeveloping the other out- buildings in a sustainable way.
So they certainly have plenty to keep themselves occupied and aim for and are determined to make a difference in this part of Wales!